Chapter Four (of Ten)
He couldn’t wait to finish while watching it fly off towards Pluto, he had to act now. Taking the handles of the wheelchair he turned it towards the elevator. Nearly falling out of the chair, Brad grunted in pain as he held himself in the chair with his good hand, the bad one cradled across his lap. The elevator ride seemed to take forever.
They flew down the hallway, angled slightly towards the bottom of his giant spaceship. Beneath the round machine was a cylindrical tube that hung below it containing the entrance valve. He hadn’t put an elevator in it for lack of space. It would be a struggle to have Brad climb up the small circular stair, but it had to be done.
After a long time Brad collapsed into the cushioned chair in the very first compartment of the living quarters. Blood smeared the arm of the chair when he tried to catch himself with his broken hand, but then bounced into the chair without its help.
“I have to run to the instrumentation room to make another change.” Tim informed him as he tried to make Brad as comfortable as possible. Sickened by the blood on the chair, he had thoughts of rubbing it away, but realized that he hadn’t the strength left to do it after practically lifting Brad’s body on his shoulder the whole length of the stair.
“You have no time left Tim.” Brad pleaded with him. “You must fix it before the collapse begins on this planet. Tim flipped on the television as he left the room but didn’t wait for the image to appear. He ran to the operating panel as the oceans began churning violently. The sound, always quicker to arrive than the pictures, told him that New York, Most of Florida, and Los Angeles were already inundated by waves hundreds of feet high. The water was not subsiding even after the waves had buried the cities in a hot churning whirlpool.
For a couple of hours he struggled with the adjustments. Most of them were electronic, but somehow he had to realign the housing for the motor itself. It weighed tons. It wouldn’t move by his strength alone. He knew Brad could never muster the strength to help him, not while pushing with only one hand and a swollen or broken ankle.
He sat on the floor where he had been working inside of an open access panel. He weighed the options open to him, the necessity to have help. His family came to mind, but he had been an only child, and even his father had succumbed to his death. His desperation climbed, choking him with the difficulty of breathing, his diaphragm becoming paralyzed with fear. He had to stop and catch his breath.
Finally he thought of the people who were intended to take the trip to the stars with him. He jumped to his feet and ran back to Brad’s side. He was found nearly asleep, still watching the horrendous end of the planet in darkened colors. The cameras could only show what was happening without enough lighting from the sun, smothered by dark clouds that made the most wicked thunderstorm seem calm, it’s clouds light in comparison to these.
He told Brad of his plans to go retrieve the people, the travelers with intentions of having an adventure. Brad didn’t agree with the risk, even if Tim needed help moving the motor mounts. “You can’t do it Tim. There isn’t time!” he shouted with lungs weakened and rasping from the repeated beatings from the inside and outside of the bar. But Tim couldn’t listen to him. It had been his plan for so many years, he couldn’t give it up, not even in the face of virtually no chance of success.
Even if he wasn’t successful, it wouldn’t matter much anyway. His ship wasn’t meant to continue to survival of the human race. That was never his intention. He wasn’t even sure if he wanted to do it now that he was faced with it. Perhaps this was inevitable, the process of life continuing with or without the parasitic entities surviving on the outside shell of the single planet capable of allowing their existence. He didn’t know the answers to the big question, he could only ponder them uselessly, and hurriedly. It only served to scramble his concentration further and he pushed it away.
The gates opened and he passed through them while watching the clouds building and rolling overhead. He couldn’t imagine what they must look like on the coasts across the planet, where continental plates were shoved up and over each other, making mountains and coasts. These were where the volcanoes and earthquakes would be heaviest and the most deadly. This was where the poisonous gases would belch through cracks and alongside the newly activated volcanoes. By now millions had perished from the combination of tsunamis, flooding, and seismic activity. Volcanic gasses would quickly choke out those that hadn’t already died from one of these other natural disasters. He was lucky to have been born in the center of a continent, away from the worst of it. But he wondered, “Lucky, or damned to suffer longer?”
Yet, it was inevitable that all would perish, so he helplessly tried to decide if he should continue his efforts, now to save mankind itself. He drove on, knowing the locations of each family. He knew he could skirt the center of the city where the riots were bound to be the most terrible.
As he turned away, he looked up to see the blazes spread around the city. Surely the fire of the bar had long ended in its collapse into the basement, as it was likely that the building next to it had also ended below ground. He didn’t see or hear any flashing red lights. Either all of the firemen were already committed to a fire somewhere, or they had given up and joined the riotous crowds running through the streets in panic, desperation, and death.
He found a vacated building at the first family he tried to visit. The doors were closed, but opened with a single turn of the knob. He shouted inside, but only an echo returned to him. There was some litter on the floor; papers, and clothes, heavier objects dropped in haste. It was easily seen that they had run out of the house in a panic. He was surprised that the door had been closed after them. Even in the face of death some habits were impossible to change.
Two more houses were empty. The last one, the third one that he had visited, was left open. The same conditions had been seen by Tim as he glanced into the hallways. The fourth house had suffered worse. It had been set ablaze after all the windows were broken and the doors nearly ripped from the hinges. The fire had already moved to the second level of the house, leaving a blackened shell just as the bar had become just hours ago.
His next stop was close, but even closer to the center of the city than this one had been. It seemed that he might as well give up on anyone living within the city limits. This was going to be his last attempt to find help for himself. He made two turns and headed for the road that would take him the farthest distance from his own property and his own survivability. He still hadn’t decided whether he wanted to live or not, or whether the race itself should be rescued, but he felt the need to continue deep within his mind. It was a stubbornness that he couldn’t curb. For an instant he wondered what he would do even if he did quit, but ended that thought as too terrible even to contemplate. “It would be better to be doing something.” he thought quickly, feeling a very slight reassurance.
There was a small suburb that extended out from the city itself. To go around it would require many miles and cause quite a delay in his planning; a probable shortening of his life as well. He would have to hope that it hadn’t collapsed into chaos like it’s big city neighbor had. He crawled through the small part of the city, avoiding several bands of moving vehicles that seemed to have no drivers, as they were careening off of buildings and each other as they disappeared around corners. He parked along a row of buildings, waiting for such a band to pass by, hopefully they would travel down a cross road and not collide with him as they passed his immobile car. It would be a large shiny target. He waited, looking into the remaining window of a store selling televisions. Many of them were still playing somehow.
He jumped up in the seat as he recognized his face plastered across several screens. Next it moved to a picture of his house, now devastated by fire and a smoldering ruin. Photos continued to show after his and that of his destroyed house, following the several families that had intended to go with him across the expanse of our planetary system.
After showing a photo of each of the male leaders of a family, they followed with his residence. Some were also burning, some in the process of being looted. The rest stood merely darkened, vacated by a frightened or no longer existent family. He hoped that the biggest of their problems was only fear, not physical attacks. But after each photo was shown, a huge red slash of red paint made a sloppy cross over the front of it, marking off each target as being conquered. He shuddered as he realized that his photo hadn’t been marked with a cross.
The camera pulled back, revealing the backs of many people, all bent over something hidden behind the crowd. Only arms could be seen moving above the bodies, swinging long objects that were once rakes, brooms or other long handled tools. Now they were broken sticks meant only to inflict pain. Raised above the head of one large man, Tim watched it stabbing downward repeatedly. He was glad that he could not see its target, nor hear it make contact with the victim.